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SATURDAY, JANUARY 17, 2009
IT'S STARTING - AT 7:05 P.M. ET: Look, I can't summarize this piece, but for sheer intellectual presumption, it must get some kind of prize. At our Angel's Corner we give out the Pompous Fool Award. This article would qualify, but I'm afraid we'll have a flood of candidates this week, so I'm noting it here. It's about the impact, the feeling, the brilliance, the religious character, the spiritual purity, the absolute wonderfulness, of Obama's speeches. It's in The Washington Post. It's here. You must not miss it.
ANOTHER EMBARRASSMENT FOR OBAMA - AT 5:48 P.M. ET: From The Politico:
One of the religious leaders invited to address Barack Obama’s inaugural prayer service Wednesday heads an Islamic group named by federal prosecutors as a co-conspirator in a terrorism-fundraising trial in Texas.
Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is scheduled to join Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis offering prayers for the new president and his family during a service at the National Cathedral in Washington, organizers announced Friday.
Mattson’s group calls itself “the largest Muslim umbrella organization” in North America. However, in May 2007, federal prosecutors included ISNA on a list of nearly 300 co-conspirators filed in a criminal case charging that the Holy Land Foundation of Richardson, Texas, funneled more than $12 million to Hamas.
The U.S. government designated Hamas as a terrorist group in 1995.
COMMENT: Another example of the Obama team's now legendarily poor vetting procedures. But you can be sure that, with the possible exception of Fox News, this story will be buried fast. Hey, who are we to question another culture?
THE MAYBE CEASE-FIRE - AT 5:30 P.M. ET: From The Jerusalem Post:
The cabinet on Saturday night voted in favor of an Egyptian-backed, unilateral 10-day cease-fire, ending Operation Cast Lead three weeks after it began.
At a press conference directly following the meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the aims of the operation in the Gaza Strip had been "met in full," and that the cease-fire would be observed from 2 a.m. on Sunday.
If Hamas continues to fire on the South, however, Israel will reserve the right to return fire, the prime minister said. "If [Hamas] return to their unruly attacks they will be surprised again by the hand of Israel - I don't advise them to try it," he said.
Hamas leaders have repeated, however, that the group will not respect any cease-fire as long as Israel remains inside Gaza.
COMMENT: It's hard to know exactly what this means. Is it a real cease-fire, or a P.R. effort to mollify "critics"? On Tuesday this becomes Obama's problem, and I suspect there's some stalling going on in diplomatic circles until the new administration takes over.
HILLARY? WHO'S SHE? - AT 5:20 P.M. ET: From The Politico:
Soon-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's expected approval by the Senate Tuesday has just hit a small speed bump that could delay her appointment for a day.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the incoming head of the GOP's Senate campaign committee, has penned a letter to the incoming SoS saying he's "deeply troubled that America’s foreign policy and your diplomatic mission will be encumbered by the sweeping global activities of the Clinton Foundation."
Like Dick Lugar, John Kerry and David Vitter, Cornyn wants increased transparency of Bill Clinton's charitable fundraising.
Cornyn can, though parliamentary tactics, delay a vote on Clinton until Wednesday. But she will be confirmed.
COMMENT: What is remarkable is the sheer number of Obama appointees with ethical problems. But the press seems not at all interested. Compare with the media's put-on hysteria over the "outing" of CIA employee Valerie Plame. The role of the media during the Obama years will be one of the great stories. Will we have anything approaching a professional, balanced press, or a series of royal servants? The hints so far are not encouraging.
FROM RENEE NIELSEN - AT 10:22 A.M. ET: Wonderful Renee Nielsen, who did that superb reporting from Mumbai during the recent terrorist siege, alerts us to another commendable part of the Bush legacy - our relationship with India, the world's largest democracy, has never been better. From the American Enterprise Institute:
Bill Emmott, a former editor of the Economist magazine, has written that George W. Bush's "bold initiative" to strengthen U.S. relations with India "may eventually be judged by historians as a move of great strategic importance and imagination." It "may turn out to be the most significant foreign policy achievement of the Bush administration," says historian Sugata Bose, an India expert at Harvard...
...Barack Obama will inherit a dangerous situation in Pakistan, but he will also inherit a U.S.-India partnership that is stronger than ever. Over the coming decades, as global power continues shifting to Asia, the importance of that partnership will only increase. Embracing India may indeed prove to be a significant part of President Bush's legacy."
COMMENT: I'm sure we'll be reading similar praise in The New York Times. Right. When elephants fly.
THE PROBLEM THAT WON'T GO AWAY - AT 9:39 A.M. ET:
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea said Saturday its priority is to build up its ''nuclear deterrent force'' to protect itself and not to normalize diplomatic ties with the United States.
Pyongyang last week said it would not give up its nuclear weapons until after Washington alters its ''hostile policy'' toward its government and proves it does not pose an atomic threat.
The cryptic statement was the first to lay out the communist nation's nuclear stance since the last round of international disarmament talks stalled in December.
COMMENT: Wasn't this the problem that was supposed to have been solved? We have been given so many stories about the latest "agreement" with North Korea. In the end, though, all the agreements seem to unravel. Another item for Mr. Obama's list.
THE WELL-KNOWN ASTERISK - AT 9:14 A.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials familiar with drafts of the plans. Still under debate is whether to include a loophole that would allow exceptions in extraordinary cases.
COMMENT: Get the last sentence. Of course there'll be exceptions. Obama is too smart to have the deaths of thousands on his head. So where's the change?
IRAN, THE NIGHTMARE - AT 8:59 A.M. ET: From AP:
U.S. National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell on Friday said that Iran is two to three years away from having a long-range missile that could reach Europe and is continuing to produce low-enriched uranium, the raw ingredient for the fissionable material needed for a warhead.
As he prepares to leave office, McConnell told reporters that U.S. intelligence agencies lack enough evidence to prove Iran has decided to build a nuclear warhead, but he shares the alarm of outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden that the possibility may come soon.
"I'm very concerned Iran will continue down a path that will result in a nuclear weapon," he said.
COMMENT: Do you remember, about a year ago, when an American intelligence report, circulated with glee by the mainstream media, said that Iran had stopped development of nuclear weapons in 2003? So what happened? Honest people happened. Greater precision happened. The contradiction between that bizarre intelligence report and current comments about Iran cries out for a journalistic investigation. We won't get one.
WEATHER - AT 8:48 A.M. ET: It's three degrees in White Plains, New York, where this is being written. Al Gore has been rushing around, pleading with people to turn their heat up to 90 so they'll remember what the truth really is.
THREE DAYS TO THE AGE OF OBAMIUS
Posted at 8:38 a.m. ET
The Bush days dwindle down to a precious few. Purity is coming on Tuesday. School children are being taught to prepare for the new age. Everywhere on Earth there is the feeling that, come Tuesday night, all problems will be on their way to solution. There are rumors that Obama carols are being written. Wise men are heading for Washington. True, they're generally called lobbyists, but they're now wise men.
We can report the following developments:
- CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta, who reported yesterday that he'd successfully penetrated Fox News, now claims that Bill O'Reilly is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. The president-elect is said to be concerned.
- A team of Berkeley scientists reports that every time Obama speaks, the Earth cools a bit. This same team reported last year that Che Guevara is alive and is living with Elvis in Monterey.
- New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who had to withdraw his nomination for commerce secretary because he's under investigation, has asked for political asylum in Illinois.
- Obama still has no replacement for Richardson. He says he wants someone who built a business based on creativity and trust - but the producer of the "Girls Gone Wild" videos turned him down.
- Mr. Obama apologized after an aide referred to Cabinet members as "the disciples." Obama said it was premature, and that the exact relationship is still to be worked out.
- An informed source reports that Hillary Clinton will attend the inaugural ball with a blind date.
January 17, 2009. Permalink
FRIDAY, JANUARY 16, 2009
MISSING INFORMATION - AT 4:36 P.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Last year was the eighth warmest year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center...
...Preliminary calculations show the world's average temperature for 2008 was 0.88 degree Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average of 57.0 degrees F.
COMMENT: This is one of those stories that drives us crazy because of what is left out. The story suggests, but does not say, that records have been kept since 1880. That's less than a snapshot in human history. What does the lack of precise data before 1880 do to the calculation? Also, if global warming is getting worse, why was 2008 only the eighth warmest year "on record"? And, are these numbers in any case alarming, or consistent with natural variations?
DOWN FOR THE COUNT - AT 3:54 P.M. ET: From The New York Times:
Circuit City, once a bellwether American retailer, is going out of business for good, stripping the nation of its second-largest consumer electronics chain.
The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in November, said Friday that it would liquidate its stores and other assets.
COMMENT: I'd like to see some good reporting on chains that are either doing well or at least surviving in this climate. Circuit City always struck me as a chain with no real identity, and an indifferent staff. And their prices on big-ticket items were often bested by others.
QUOTE OF THE DAY - AT 3:38 P.M.: Suggested by a reader, a distinguished academic:
“I know as much or more than Cheney. I’m the most experienced vice president since anybody.”
- Joe Biden
And anybody is a tough standard for anybody.
THAT HUNGRY?- AT 9:59 A.M. ET: From Reuters:
WASHINGTON - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama skipped his soon-to-be predecessor’s final address to the nation on Thursday in favor of dining out.
At roughly 8 p.m. in Washington, about the time President George W. Bush began his televised speech, Obama left his new temporary residence across from the White House to go out for dinner in a restaurant a few blocks away.
COMMENT: Bad move. Rare PR blunder for Obama. He should have watched the speech and commented on it...favorably.
Posted at 8:51 a.m. ET
President Bush delivered a dignified, eloquent farewell to the nation last night. I flipped channels right after the speech to catch reactions, and caught Chris Matthews, resident embarrassment at MSNBC, making a vile, disgusting attack on the president, mocking Mr. Bush's belief in spreading democracy, claiming he was never ready for the presidency, and asserting that he was captured by "the neocons." There was absolutely no graciousness or reflection in Matthews's comments - simply an all-out assault from a man who cannot separate his partisanship - he's an active Democrat - from his so-called journalism.
When I was a student at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, I interned at the old Huntley-Brinkley Report. The atmosphere was professional, restrained and respectful. Watching Matthews is to watch the train wreck that NBC News has become, apparently in a grab for ratings.
One can, of course, disagree with Mr. Bush on a host of things, yet remain civil and thoughtful in dissent. That has not been the way of much of the opposition during the last eight years, and the country has suffered for it.
This morning, Charles Krauthammer, in The Washington Post, gives a positive view of the Bush presidency, and his arguments are worth reading:
Except for Richard Nixon, no president since Harry Truman has left office more unloved than George W. Bush. Truman's rehabilitation took decades. Bush's will come sooner. Indeed, it has already begun. The chief revisionist? Barack Obama.
That appeared in The Washington Post? That is permitted? Is this a new Post?
Vindication is being expressed not in words but in deeds -- the tacit endorsement conveyed by the Obama continuity-we-can-believe-in transition...
...It is the great care Obama is taking in not preemptively abandoning the anti-terror infrastructure that the Bush administration leaves behind. While still a candidate, Obama voted for the expanded presidential wiretapping (FISA) powers that Bush had fervently pursued. And while Obama opposes waterboarding (already banned, by the way, by Bush's CIA in 2006), he declined George Stephanopoulos's invitation (on ABC's "This Week") to outlaw all interrogation not permitted by the Army Field Manual. Explained Obama: "Dick Cheney's advice was good, which is let's make sure we know everything that's being done," i.e., before throwing out methods simply because Obama campaigned against them.
He praised Dick Cheney? Battle Stations! Code Pink to the White House! The "Impeach Obama!" movement starts today.
...Obama is consciously creating a gulf between what he now dismissively calls "campaign rhetoric" and the policy choices he must make as president. Accordingly, Newsweek -- Obama acolyte and scourge of everything Bush/Cheney -- has on the eve of the Democratic restoration miraculously discovered the arguments for warrantless wiretaps, enhanced interrogation and detention without trial. Indeed, Newsweek's neck-snapping cover declares, "Why Obama May Soon Find Virtue in Cheney's Vision of Power."
Code Pink to Newsweek, too! Medea Benjamin, you're wanted on the front lines. Ban Newsweek!
Whatever venom the war generated is concentrated on Bush himself. By having personalized the responsibility for the awfulness of the war, Bush has done his successor a favor. Obama enters office with a strategic success on his hands -- while Bush leaves the scene taking a shoe for his country.
Which I suspect is why Bush showed such equanimity during a private farewell interview at the White House a few weeks ago. He leaves behind the sinews of war, for the creation of which he has been so vilified but which will serve his successor -- and his country -- well over the coming years. The very continuation by Democrats of Bush's policies will be grudging, if silent, acknowledgment of how much he got right.
Well argued, I think. Let's see if the ultra-Dems in Congress will allow Obama to govern responsibly, or whether they'll try to turn him into Jimmah II. The Democratic Party in Congress is still controlled by the intellectual leftovers of the sixties generation. They run the committees, and if Mr. Obama tries to govern from the center, which he should, they may make it impossible.
January 16, 2009. Permalink
WEATHER REPORT - AT 7:48 A.M. ET: It's 7 degrees in White Plains, New York, where we are. We are being overwhelmed with global warming.
THAT'S REAL MONEY - AT 7:28 A.M. ET: From The New York Times:
Citigroup reported Friday a fourth-quarter net loss of $8.29 billion and provided more details of an ongoing restructuring plan, while Bank of America posted a more moderate $1.79 billion loss after a modest net income a year earlier.
COMMENT: Why the dramatic difference in losses between Bank of America and Citi? Would make a good journalistic investigation, if anyone can get at the figures. But these are staggering numbers. Even here in New York, people are starting to notice.
IN THE REAL WORLD - AT 7:15 A.M. ET: With all the partyin' about to go on, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that there's a real world out there, and Iran is a very big part of it. There's this, from today's Wall Street Journal, via Fox News:
WASHINGTON — U.S. security and law-enforcement officials say they have fresh evidence of recent efforts by Iran to evade sanctions and acquire metals from China used in high-tech weaponry, including long-range nuclear missiles, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Iran's efforts are detailed in a series of recent emails and letters between Iranian companies and foreign suppliers seen by The Wall Street Journal. Business records show one Iranian company, ABAN Commercial & Industrial Ltd., has contracted through an intermediary for more than 30,000 kilograms (about 66,000 pounds) of tungsten copper — which can be used in missile guidance systems — from Advanced Technology & Materials Co. Ltd. of Beijing.
COMMENT: Welcome to the White House, Mr. Obama.
MORE ON THE COLLEGE BUSINESS - AT 7:05 A.M. ET: We ran a brief item yesterday on the cost of college, and got one of the biggest responses we've ever received. Now there is this, from The New York Times:
College students are covering more of what it costs to educate them, even as most colleges are spending less on students, according to a new study.
The study, based on data that colleges and universities report to the federal government, also found that the share of higher education budgets that goes to instruction has declined, while the portion spent on administrative costs has increased.
COMMENT. Right. And still, Congress doesn't seem to be in the mood to ask any questions about where all that federal aid goes. It's like the first chunk of bank bailout money: Don't ask, don't tell. But parents are asking, and so are kids who'll be straddled with debt once they graduate...if they have the funds to graduate.
FOUR DAYS TO THE AGE OF OBAMIUS
Posted at 6:45 a.m. ET
It's getting so close. Can you feel the progress? Can you feel the change we can believe in? Can you feel the ethical purity - Hillary Clinton, Roland Burris, Timothy Geithner, Eric Holder?
Do you feel good enough for the coming of Obama?
We can report the following exciting developments:
- Inspired by Attorney-General-designate Eric Holder's claim that he became a better person because of his involvement in the Marc Rich pardon scandal, Barack Obama pledged to recruit people to his administration who've made major mistakes.
- It is rumored that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, having made major mistakes, is in line for a seat on the Supreme Court.
- It is rumored that Bernard Madoff, having made major mistakes, may be the next secretary of commerce.
- CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta reports that he successfully infiltrated Fox News and placed a listening device under Bill O'Reilly's anchor desk - so that every word O'Reilly utters on the air will be heard at CIA headquarters.
- Treasury-Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner, already in hot water over unpaid taxes, admitted that he got his weekly allowance twice one week when he was eight years old, after his dad forgot that Tim had already received it. Geithner asserted that it was an administrative error common to eight years olds, but that it made him a better person.
- President-elect Obama said that because of Hillary Clinton's past ethical lapses, she is probably the best person in the world.
January 16, 2009. Permalink